Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 26: Children Play Like Scientists Work

Pop Up Thinglab 26 was an exploration of the constructionist learning ideas of Seymour Papert with our inspireNshare Mindstorms Thinglab. With this in mind we left the workshop open ended and let the children free-style and self organise their learning .... we let them play to see what was possible.

Lego has a long and deep relationship with the constructionist learning ideas of Seymour Papert. Papert was the first LEGO professor of learning research at MIT and his visionary book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas was the inspiration for LEGO naming their LEGO robotic construction kit Mindstorms.

The name LEGO is derived from the Danish phrase "leg godt", which means "play well" and it is play that is at the heart of Papert's approach to learning ... experimenting, trying things out, discovering and solving problems in an environment of play.

Albert Einstein knew all about the power of curiosity, play and experimentation.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”


“Play is the highest form of research” 

Children Play Like Scientists Work - they are curious and try things out, experiment, test things, break things and inquire - just as if they are doing scientific research.  In playful learning it's ok to make mistakes when experimenting with new ideas its OK to be different and its OK to be silly - its all part of the fun of play and of learning. Children are natural scientists - curiosity bootstraps their learning through play, exploration and experimentation. A Curious Mind Knows No Limits - to learn just start playing  .. its only natural - we just have to create the conditions or as Seymour Papert once said 
"The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention"

It was with playful learning and creating the conditions for invention in mind that we brought the inspireNshare Mindstorms Thinglab to the learners of Wyteleafe school.
"Like ducks to water" - the children took naturally to making, programming, using and experimenting with their little robots. It was amazing to see the power of constructionism in action and just how effective tangible learning can be.

Through failure we make new discoveries 

One group had trouble when it came to programming their robot's movements - "instead of doing what it's told it keeps going round in circles." After a while they found out that it wasn't the robot's fault at all but that the control cable between its "brain" and its left "leg" wasn't connected properly. We tested this idea by plugging it in properly and trying it out then unplugging the control cable to the other "leg", predicting what would happen and trying it out. This chance event with the robot led to a little discussion about human anatomy, our the nervous system and about disability. While new technologies of the information age like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics raise existential questions for us and about what it means to be human they also provide opportunities to explore our humanity.

We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” ~ Tim Berners-Lee

Abstract, practical, linear, holistic, critical, generative, convergent, divergent, rational, lateral, analytical, logical emotional, analytical .. we are all different ... we think and learn in different ways and have different abilities. I could see wonderful diversity in our young learners. Some dived into making the robots while others took their time to think about and plan how to make them. Some were better at building the robots while others were better at programming them. Some were creative in thinking of things to do with them while others were competitive at racing with them. Some were quiet and personal while others were noisy and social. InspireNshare Mindstorms Thinglab celebrates human diversity and embraces our differences - all our learners were able to use their own learning style in our free-style learning workshop.

One group programmed their robot to travel around the hall. One group programmed their robot to go around obstacles and were thinking about building a bridge from cardboard to program their robot to go over and under. Some groups programmed their robots in races while others programmed their robots in robot war.

We had the LEGO Mindstorms Commander available but concentrated on programming rather than remote control. The need to program a robot rather than remote control it encourages computational thinking and learning the real value of programming rather than just coding.To program a the robot to do something you have to work out how to do it yourself - you have to solve the problem and then communicate the solution. Programs usually don't work first time and there is an iterative cycle of debugging them - trying out ideas and testing hypotheses. Programming is about problem solving, communication, creativity and invention - it's an excellent way to teach people how to learn and how to adapt for an uncertain future.

Children Play Like Scientists Work and one group in particular played like scientists. They created their own challenge to solve - getting their robot to the shops and back. They drew a starting square (home) and a destination square (the shops) and set about working how to get their robot there and back. My role was like a research advisor - suggesting that they need to measure the distance to the destination and the distance the the robot travelled in one "step" to work out how many "steps" the robot needed to make to get to the shops and stop before coming back .. using the same number of "steps" in reverse. A ruler wasn't available so the students made there own measure with some paper and with careful planning programmed the robot to get to the shops and back first time!

There was plenty of time for the children to experiment with the additional features of their robots - we showed some children the combination to get to the secret menu to adjust the speed and distance of the robots move and watched how word spread and they showed each other how to use the settings. Some children used the "Nemo" extension for the robot to hold a pen and draw, some used the Agripper extension for the robot to grab hold of things, some used the Bat extension for the robot to hit things while others used the sound button to program the robot to make animal noises.

"kids are motivated and inspired to learn when they are using that learning to make something they care about, that a teacher’s most important role is to provide them with the tools and freedom to make those things" ~ Seymour Papert

InspireNshare Mindstorms Thinglab is a constructionist learning lab inspired by the visionary ideas of Seymour Papert and Maker cultureDoing it yourself and making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something - it makes learning personal and I could see this with our learners ... many had named their robots and one group pleaded not to dismantle their robot at the end of the workshop.

Pop Up Thinglab 26 was a wonderful confirmation of the power of Seymour Papert's constructionism learning theory in action and the natural learning ability of young children.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” ~ George Bernard Shaw

"Any sufficiently advanced work is indistinguishable from play." ~ Seb Paquet

“Play is the highest form of research” ~ Albert Einstein

To find out more about the inspireNshare approach to education, technology and EdTech visit

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